The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth Volume Iii Part 73
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No other General Beaupuy is recorded in the history of the Revolution, so far as I have been able to ascertain. The moral character of the officer, whose life I shall relate, answers to Wordsworth's description, and is worthy of his high estimate.
Armand Michel de Bachelier, Chevalier de Beaupuy, was born at Mussidan, in Perigord, on the 15th of July 1757. He belonged to a n.o.ble family, less proud of its antiquity than of the blood it had shed for France on many battlefields. On his mother's side (Mlle. de Villars), he reckoned Montaigne, the celebrated essayist, among his ancestors. His parents having imbibed the philanthropic ideas of the time, educated him according to their principles.
He had four brothers, who were all destined to turn republicans and do good service to the new cause, though their interest certainly lay in the opposite direction.
He was made sub-lieutenant in the regiment of Ba.s.signy (33rd division of foot) on the 2nd of March 1773, and lieutenant of grenadiers on the 1st of October of the same year.
In 1791 he was first lieutenant in the same regiment. Having sided with the Revolution, he was appointed commander of a battalion of national volunteers in the department of Dordogne. I have not found the exact date of this appointment, but it must have taken place immediately after his stay at Orleans with Wordsworth.
I have found no further mention of his name till September 1792, when he is known to have served in the "Armee du Rhin," under General Custine, and contributed to the taking of Spire.
He took an important part in the taking of Worms, 4th October; of Mayence (Maenz) 21st October. He was among the garrison of Mayence when this place was besieged by the Prussians, and obliged to capitulate after a long and famous siege (from 6th April 1793 to 22nd July 1793). [A]
During the siege he wrote a journal of all the operations.
Unfortunately, this journal is very short, and purely military. It has been handed down to us, and is found in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris in the 'Papiers de Merlin de Thionville', n. acq. fr. Nos.
244-252, 8 vol. in-8. Beaupuy's journal is in the 3rd volume, fol.
In the Vendean war, the "Mayencais," or soldiers returned from Mayence, made themselves conspicuous, and bore almost all the brunt of the campaign. But none of them distinguished himself more than Beaupuy, then a General of Brigade.
The Mayencais arrived in Vendee at the end of August or beginning of September 1793. To Beaupuy's skill the victory of Chollet (Oct. 17, 1793) is attributed by Jomini. In this battle he fought hand to hand with and overcame a Vendean cavalier. He himself had three horses killed, and had a very narrow escape. On the battlefield he was made 'general of division' by the "Representants du peuple." It was after Chollet that the Vendeans made the memorable crossing of the Loire at St. Florent.
At Laval and Chateau-Gonthier (Oct. 26) a terrible defeat was inflicted on the Republicans, owing to the incapacity of their commander-in-chief, Lech.e.l.le. The whole corps commanded by General Beaupuy was crushed by a terrible fire, He himself, after withstanding for two or three hours with 2000 or 3000 men all the attacks of the royalists, was disabled by a shot, and fell, crying out, "'Laissez-moi la, et portez a mes grenadiers ma chemise sanglante'." His soldiers thought he was dead, and then the error was spread, which was repeated by Wordsworth, Thiers, and Challamel. Wordsworth's mistake is so far interesting, as it seems to prove that very little or no correspondence pa.s.sed between the two friends after they had parted.
Beaupuy, moreover, had too much work upon his hands to give much of his time to letter-writing.
Though severely wounded, Beaupuy lived on, and less than six weeks after the battle of Chateau-Gonthier, he was seen on the ramparts of Angers, where he required himself to be carried to animate his soldiers and head the defenders of the place, from which the Vendeans were driven after a severe contest (Dec. 5 and 6).
On the 22nd of December 1793 he shared in the victory of Savenay with his celebrated friends, Marceau, Kleber, and Westermann. After this battle, which put an end to the great Vendean war, he wrote the following letter to his friend Merlin de Thionville, the celebrated "representant du peuple."
"SAVENAY, le 4 Nivose au 2'e (25 Dec. 73).
"Enfin, enfin, mon cher Merlin, elle n'est plus cette armee royale ou catholique, comme tu voudras! J'en ai vu, avec tes braves collegues Prieur et Eurreau, les debris, consistant en 150 cavaliers battant l'eau dans le marais de Montaire; et comme tu connais ma veracite tu peux dire avec a.s.surance que les deux combats de Savenay ont mis fin a la guerre de la nouvelle Vendee et aux chimeriques esperances des royalists.
L'histoire ne vous presente point de combat dont le suites aient ete plus decisives. Ah! mon brave, comme tu aurais joui! quelle attaque!
mais quelle deroute aussi! Il fallait les voir ces soldats de Jesus et de Louis XVII, se jetant dans les marais ou obliges de se rendre par 5 ou 600 a la fois; et Langreniere pris et les autres generaux disperses et aux abois!
Cette armee, dont tu avais vu les restes de la terra.s.se de St.
Florent, etait redevenue formidable par son recrutement dans les departements envahis. Je les ai bien vus, bien examines, j'ai reconnu meme de mes figures de Chollet et de Laval, et a leur contenance et a leur mine, je l'a.s.sure qu'il ne leur manquait du soldat que l'habit. Des troupes qui ont battu de tels Francais peuvent se flatter ainsi de vainere des peuples a.s.sez laaches pour se reunir centre un seul et encore pour la cause des rois! Enfin, je ne sais si je me trompe, mais cette guerre de brigands, de paysans, sur laquelle on a jete tant de ridicule, que l'on dedaignait, que l'on affectait de regarder comme meprisable, m'a toujours paru, pour la republique, la grande partie, et il me semble a present qu'avec nos autres ennemis, nous ne ferrons plus que peloter.
Adieu, brave montagnard, adieu! Actuellement que cette execrable guerre est terminee, que les manes de nos freres sont satisfaits, je vais guerir. J'ai obtenu de tes confreres un conge qui finira au moment ou la guerre recommencera.
LE GeNERAL DE BRIGADE BEAUPUY.
I think I can recognize in this letter some traits of Beaupuy's character as pointed out by Wordsworth, not excepting the half-suppressed criticism:
'... somewhat vain he was, Or seemed so, yet it was not vanity, But fondness, and a kind of radiant joy Diffused around him ...'
Pa.s.sing over numerous military incidents, on the 26th of June 1796 Beaupuy received seven or eight sabre-cuts at Jorich-Wildstadt. But on the 8th of July he was already back at his post.
He again greatly distinguished himself on the 1st of September 1796 at Greisenfeld and Langenbruck, where the victory of the French was owing to a timely attack made by Desaix and himself.
He was one of the generals under Moreau when the latter achieved his well-known retreat through the Black Forest, begun on the 15th of September 1796, and during which many battles were fought. In one of the actions on the banks of the Elz, Beaupuy was killed by a cannon-ball, while opposing General Latour on the heights of Malterdingen. His soldiers, who loved him pa.s.sionately, fought desperately to avenge his death (Oct. 19, 1796).
One of Beaupuy's colleagues, General Duhem, in his account of the battle to the Government, thus expressed himself on General Beaupuy:
"Ecrivains patriotes, orateurs chaleureux, je vous propose un n.o.ble sujet, l'eloge du General Beaupuy, de Beaupuy, le Nestor et l'Achille de notre armee. Vous n'avez pas de recherches a faire; interrogez le premier soldat de l'armee du Rhin-et-Moselle, ses larmes exciteront les votres. Ecrivez alors ce que est vous en dira, et vous peindrez le Bayard de la Republique Francaise."
Such bombastic style was then common, but what we have seen of Beaupuy in this sketch shows that he had through his career united Nestor's prudence [B] with Achilles' bodily courage and Bayard's chivalric spirit,--to use the language of the time.
General Moreau had Beaupuy's remains transported to Brisach, where a monument was erected to his memory in 1802, after the peace of Luneville.
In short, Beaupuy seems to have always remained worthy of the high praise bestowed on him by Wordsworth. His name is to be remembered along with those of the unspotted generals of the first years of the Revolution--Hoche, Marceau, etc.--before the craving for conquest had developed, and the love of liberty yielded to a fond admiration of Bonaparte as it did in the case of Kleber, Desaix, and so many others.
N. B.--The great influence which Beaupuy exercised at that time on Wordsworth will be easily understood, if we take into account not only his real qualities, but also his age. When they met, Wordsworth was only twenty-one, Beaupuy nearly thirty-five. The grown-up man could impart much of his knowledge of life, and of the favourite authors of the time, to a youth fresh from the University--though that youth was Wordsworth.
The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth Volume Iii Part 73
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